“It was all a dream…” begins the popular hip hop song “Juicy” from the late New York artist, the Notorious B.I.G. In the song the artist is able to depict the struggle and journey to stardom. Similarly entrepreneurs have a dream or a vision for where they see their ventures and it is the hard work, dedication and the journey that lays the path for their success.
For Kathryn Finney, the founder of digitalundivided, “the most diverse technology conference on the planet,” her vision for digitalundivided started 30 years ago when her father who she calls the “smartest person she knew” was a brewery worker during the 80’s in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and the brewery shut down . With a lot transition happening in the midwest, a lot of blue collar workers were left without jobs and hope for the future. In his 30’s her father went back to school and took a class with a person from IBM. During the class, he found out that he had a talent and love for C++. From there he started an internship and eventually landed a job with a technology company in Minneapolis. He eventually rose through the ranks and became an executive and worked for successful technology companies like Microsoft.
As a kid Kathryn, remembers seeing her father the huge C++ books “the size of bricks” and seeing his transition from blue collar worker to technology expert. While initially Kathryn did not go in the technology field, those memories left a lasting impact upon her. After she married her husband who was in technology, her husband suggested that she blog. Long before WordPress and Blogger, Kathryn was learning how to code from the “bottom up” on an open source blogging platform called Greymatter. It was this experience and success of her blog that laid the foundation for her next step.
The Beginning of digitalundivided
Later she moved on to BlogHer and while at a business conference she noticed that she was often the only black woman that was speaking about technology so she had the idea to do a technology conference for black women and in 2012 that idea came to fruition. Every year the conference has grown from what started as about 140 attendees at conference with a few sponsors donating a few items to over 500 people that attended this year’s conference with big names sponsoring including Facebook, American Express, Uber and Pandora. The conference also featured workshops covering everything from black women and the search engine to the discussion of new media, insights from developers, the future of mobile technology and talks from actual VCs. The “top” session was the Pitch Session which featured promising startups founded by black women pitch to angel, venture and institutional investors.
— Jodi Thompson (@tiny_winey718) October 4, 2014
For Kathryn, it started out with “just a vision” and eventually grew into the company with 5 employees. Kathryn says for a lot of women and people of color, are often taught not to “trust their vision” and sometimes have difficulty turning that vision to reality. She explained that every has a vision or a dream but the difference has been successful companies and unsuccessful ones is their ability to “execute well,” “conceptualizing that dream” and turning it into reality. Being able to do that is not something you learn by reading a book or watching a video but similar to coding, it is something you learn by “doing.” The visionary entrepreneur explained that in order to be successful entrepreneurs should be able to set standards, build a team with people that are smarter than the entrepreneur and be able to trust them to do it. She understand that it is important for her “to get out of the way of here people” because they are the experts. For Kathryn as she is building a legacy, she says the perception is that there aren’t people of color interested in technology, but she says that is simply not true. She hope that digitalundivided and the FOCUS100 conference brings light to some of the issues that exist including getting funding and diversifying funding (specifically the VCs).
For her, the legacy started long before 2012 when she founded the conference, it began from the person from IBM that gave her father an opportunity and it will continue with the person that came to the conference and didn’t know anything about technology but is empowered and encouraged to start work in technology.
About digitalundivided & FOCUS
digitalundivided (DID) is a Harlem based social enterprise that develops programs that increase the number of urban entrepreneurs, especially women, in the digital space. DID has various programs including:
- FOCUS100 is one of the most anticipated technology conferences of the year. digitalundivided brings together diverse startups, innovative companies like Facebook, Google, AMEX and Microsoft, and top investors from firms like Andreessen Horowitz, Comcast Ventures, Box Group, Gen Y Capital, Techstars, and more for the most diverse tech conference on the planet.
- FOCUS Fellows Program is a 10 week program that takes black women founders of very early stage technology companies and help them develop actual companies that can get funding. Over 30% of fellows have received funding and over 10% have received funding of over 10% have received over a half a million dollars. Including Heather Hiles, the Founder and CEO of Pathbrite who has raised over $10 Million.
More information is available here.
Pictures from the Conference
FOCUS Tech event presented by digitalundivided bringing together diverse startups, innovative companies like Facebook, Google, AMEX and Microsoft, and investors from firms like Andreessen Horowitz, Comcast Ventures, Box Group, Gen Y Capital, Techstars, and more for the most diverse tech conference on the planet. #FOCUS100 #business #Entrepreneurs #startups